How to Travel Safely as the Country Begins to Reopen
COVID-19 disrupted lives all around the world. We sheltered in place. We’ve learned about social distancing. We’re all stocked up on face masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. But now, with the pandemic still raging, we’re beginning to return to some semblance of normalcy or at least some version of the ‘new normal’.
For those whose travel plans were put on hold or called off altogether, you might be wanting to make use of travel vouchers to book a summer vacation. Some may have future plans that were already booked pre-pandemic and are now wondering if it’s now safe to go. Others may be routine travelers, jetting across the country or around the world for business. No matter your situation, one thing is certain: travel today looks a whole lot different than it did just a few months ago.
While there’s still a lot of uncertainty about the pandemic and various state and local social distancing rules, travel is beginning to come back all across the country. It’s important to know what you’re in for before you plan to travel, to avoid unpleasant surprises that may ruin your trip. We’ll help walk you through the best ways to travel safely as the US begins to reopen.
Before you book your trip or even make hard and fast plans, it’s important to check on the local rules and regulations in place in your destination state and city. In some spots, including travelers’ favorite Hawaii, anyone arriving from out of state must be quarantined for 14 days. If your plan is to book a private bungalow on the beach and soak up the rays alone, that may be fine, but for most people such a quarantine will likely be a deal-breaker.
If you’re traveling internationally, the CDC offers a travel destination database with details on health-related restrictions around the world. For domestic travel, Multistate offers a COVID-19 policy tracker with details on each state’s rules and regulations. Be sure to also take into consideration any rules in your home state. Some may find they have to quarantine for 14 days upon returning home.
Of course, staying home is still the safest option and the best way to keep from spreading COVID. But for many, cabin fever is a real problem and you’re just ready to hit the open road. Road trips are an excellent way to avoid the dangers of flying on cramped planes, but they’re not without their own concerns.
If you’re planning to travel across several states, be sure to familiarize yourself with restrictions all along your route. In some states you may find it difficult to find overnight accommodations or even an open restaurant dining room. You may also want to take note of current transmission statistics in the areas you’ll be visiting. The last thing you want to do is visit a hot spot and then bring the virus home to your community.
Next, be sure to pack personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectants and sanitizers. These items may be readily available in your neighborhood, but there are still areas of the country where they’re difficult to find.
Finally, be sure to limit your stops as much as possible. Each time you get out at a rest stop to stretch your legs or use the facilities, you’re risking contamination. Whenever you do get out of the car, try to avoid crowded places and maintain social distancing as much as possible. And don’t forget to wear your mask anytime you might be near others.
For those who don’t have the time to take a road trip or who just prefer a speedier method of travel, airlines are ready to welcome you back with open arms. But there are still some things you should know about air travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
The most important first step is to check with your chosen airline to see what the current rules and regulations are, as well as steps they’re taking to keep passengers safe. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has set up several regulations aimed at keeping travelers safe, so be sure to familiarize yourself with those. On that page, they also have links to details from several of the major domestic airlines, to make it easy to gather information.
Beyond this there are several things to consider. We’ll walk you through an air travel trip.
Heading to the Airport
First, how do you get to the airport? You may be used to taking public transportation or a shuttle service, but these are places where you’re most likely to contract the virus. The best option is to drive yourself and park close enough to walk to your terminal, but that may not be an option. Next best is to have a trusted friend provide transport, preferably someone who you know has been following best practices and avoiding crowds. If none of these options are available to you, Uber and Lyft are options, but be sure you’re wearing a mask and expect that you may have to load and unload your own luggage.
Check-in and Security
At airports across the country (and around the world), things are looking quite different. The TSA has changed some of its procedures. Security lines are being socially distanced. Passengers are scanning their own documents to avoid airport personnel having to handle hundreds and thousands of tickets, though they’re still being scrutinized by TSA agents, often through plexiglass.
To reduce exposure in the reusable plastic bins at security, place items like your shoes, belt, keys, and phones in your carry-on luggage instead of the bin. If you’re bringing food along, it needs to go inside a plastic bag, and then be placed in a bin. And if you’re selected for a security pat-down, don’t worry. TSA agents are being instructed to change gloves after each passenger.
Boarding is another procedure that may be strange for those used to the way things were before COVID. Airlines are handling this differently, so be sure to check before you travel. Most are boarding in smaller groups than normal, to keep there from being a crowd shuffling into the plane.
Some planes are attempting to keep center seats open, to allow for space between passengers. On flights that are particularly full, this may not be a possibility. If you find that you are booked on a crowded flight and you’re uncomfortable with this, speak to your gate agent. Most airlines will work with you to rebook you onto a less popular flight. Do remember that with fewer flights taking off each day, you may have to wait quite a while for a less crowded flight.
On the Plane
Time spent in the air will likely feel unusual to frequent fliers as well. On shorter trips, flight attendants may not be offering snacks and drinks. Most airlines are requiring masks throughout the entire trip, so be prepared. Best practices also include covering your eyes with safety goggles to avoid contamination. Airlines have put improved cleaning procedures in place, but many travelers still choose to wipe down their seats and tray tables, just to be sure.
Hotels and Other Options
Accommodations and their regulations will vary from state to state, as well as internationally, so be sure to research before you go. Here are a few things to consider when choosing where to stay.
First, many people choose to stay in a hotel because they want access to the pool, gym, or business center. Even if your favorite lodging is accepting room reservations, these amenities may not be open, so check before booking if they’re important to you. The good news is that most hotels have stepped up cleaning practices, and many are even allowing rooms to remain empty for a time between guests, when possible.
Another choice is renting a vacation home through sites like Airbnb or Vrbo. These are often a good option, particularly if you communicate with the owner about cleaning practices or if you can ensure that no one has stayed in the property for a day or two before you check-in. Because these options tend to be more private and you’re less likely to encounter other guests or staff members in the hallways, they may be the safer option.
Once again, this will vary depending on location. In some states, theme parks and museums are now open at limited capacity. In others, they’re still closed. Where attractions are open to the public, expect to have to book in advance, and be prepared for a COVID screening at the gate. This will likely include questions about any symptoms you may be experiencing as well as temperature checks.
The safest options are outdoor attractions that are unlikely to be crowded. Going camping or visiting nature preserves in out-of-the-way places are excellent spots to spend your vacation. At the very least, wherever you choose to travel, try to avoid crowds as much as possible and be sure to wear your mask whenever you may be in close proximity to others.
After your trip, you may still have concerns about bringing back the virus. Be sure to disinfect everything you took with you, and don’t forget personal items like your phone and wallet.
Once you’re home again, it’s a good idea to avoid visiting those who are most at risk for COVID-19 such as grandparents and those with compromised immune systems. Avoid the temptation to visit for at least two weeks, in case you were exposed without knowing it.
If you begin to feel ill when you return home, it may or may not be due to the virus. There are a number of reasons you may feel ill after returning from a vacation. Fortunately, help is available without the need for visiting a germy waiting room or exposing yourself to the virus at your local emergency room. Instead, call DispatchHealth for at-home medical care from trained medical providers. We’ll come to you at home and treat everything an urgent care can, plus more. And since we’re covered under most major insurance providers, including Medicare and Medicaid, you won’t even have to worry about a large bill to pay.